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A high bar for protecting the protectors

RCMP conviction, fine in wake of Moncton shooting emphasizes high standard of safety for emergency services
Moncton RCMP shooting
A regimental funeral for one of the three officers killed in Moncton, N.B., in June 2014. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi

By Jeffrey R. Smith

"Is it safe?" That’s an important question for employees and employers when it comes to their workplaces. Safety is of utmost importance, because the last thing anyone in the workplace wants – or should, anyway – is someone getting hurt, or worse. Employers have legal obligations under occupational health and safety legislation to take all reasonable measures to ensure employee safety, the efforts must be ramped up if the job is has even more dangers than most.

Training is an important way to help safety efforts in the workplace. Employees who know what they’re doing and are familiar with the procedures in place to keep them safe are more likely to stay safe. And not providing the information and training necessary to increase safety is not going to be seen as reasonable efforts or due diligence if something happens.

This is particularly important for workplaces and occupations that feature complicated equipment and dangerous situations – such as police and other emergency services. These types of occupations also involve public safety, so the legal obligations and standards expected of employers in these services are very high. And if training, preparation, or procedures fail to meet the mark, then the consequences can be catastrophic.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment in Moncton, N.B., had a worst-case scenario happen back in 2014 when a gunman went on a rampage hunting police officers. The sgunman ended up killing three RCMP officers and wounding two others before the RCMP was able to collar him and stop the rampage.

The gunman was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 75 years. But the RCMP were charged with failing to provide officers with adequate use-of-force equipment and user training when it was discovered general-duty officers weren’t provided with carbine rifles that the force possessed. Witnesses reported that the rifles could have made a difference during the rampage and possibly prevented some of the officer fatalities.

The rifles were approved in 2011 but there were delays in implementing them over concerns about militarizing the force.

The New Brunswick Provincial Court convicted the RCMP charges and just recently ordered the force to pay a $100,000 fine along with $450,000 for charitable donations for scholarships at the University of Moncton and an education fund for the children of the officers who were killed.

It’s a big fine, but that’s often the case when safety violations result in fatalities. And employers such as police forces have a high duty of care when it comes to the safety of employees when the nature of the job frequently puts them in danger. In this case, when there were rifles available that could have helped in a situation like this, it makes sense that not providing officers who are on the front lines every day and are most likely to face those circumstances with them and the training to use them should be seen as not taking all reasonable precautions to ensure their safety. And ensuring the safety of the officers in these circumstances also mean ensuring the safety of the general public.

The good thing that has come out of the tragedy is that the RCMP seems to have taken this to heart and has taken measure to increase the safety of general duty officers. A report on the incident made 60 recommendations and, according to the judge in the case, the RCMP has acted on 56 of them.

The police and other emergency services exist to protect the public. But it’s more difficult for them to do this if their own employers don’t do everything reasonable to protect them. These services have a high standard when it comes to on-the-job safety, and that’s how it should be. We want our emergency services to be focused on providing help and protection to us, not asking their bosses, "Is it safe?"

Jeffrey R. Smith

Jeffrey Smith
Jeffrey R. Smith is the editor of Canadian Safety Reporter and Canadian Employment Law Today, sister publications of COS.
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